Frontier Area Rural Mental Health Camp and Mentorship Program (FARM CAMP)
- Need: To reduce the shortage of behavioral health professionals in rural Nebraska.
- Intervention: A week-long camp teaches high school students in rural and tribal communities about different career options in behavioral health and provides mentorship after the camp ends.
- Results: In 2021, 8 high school students participated in the camp, with 7 alumni returning. Many camp participants tell younger students about their positive experiences.
In Nebraska, 90 out of 93 counties are Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in mental health, with one county that is partially covered by shortage areas. One program has been working since 2013 to encourage local students to pursue a career in behavioral health and help reduce this shortage.
The Frontier Area Rural Mental Health Camp and Mentorship Program (FARM CAMP) is a free camp that encourages high school students to pursue careers as psychologists, social workers, substance use counselors, and other behavioral health occupations.
FARM CAMP has taken place in the rural communities of Rushville and Winnebago, which is on the Winnebago Indian Reservation.
The program is partly funded by the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN).
Rural high school students spend a week taking a college-credit class, which covers topics such as mental health, psychology, substance use disorders, and ethics. Students also learn more about their local/Native culture and ways to incorporate cultural competency into care. Behavioral health professionals educate the students on career options and share their experiences.
Theatre students from Chadron State College (CSC) or local high school drama programs act as patients so students can practice identifying and working with different behaviors.
Each participant is tasked with designing a community project to address a need that they see in their own rural community. On the final day, students present their projects to one another and obtain additional feedback and ideas. At the end of the Winnebago camp, students additionally met with the Tribal Council to pitch community improvement ideas.
FARM CAMP organizers also mentor these students and stay in touch after camp ends. Mentoring offers career counseling and overall support, especially to students struggling at home or in school.
In 2021, a total of 15 students (7 returning alumni) from Alliance, Gordon, Pine Ridge, Rushville, and Valentine participated in the camp. No camp was held in 2020 due to COVID-19.
In 2019, 13 high school students from Broadwater, Chadron, Gordon, Rushville, and Sidney participated in the camp. Six alumni from earlier camps also returned to participate again and/or mentor new students.
In 2018, 8 high school students from Bridgeport, Chadron, Dodge, Howells, Rushville, Sidney, and Valentine attended the Rushville camp, with four FARM CAMP alumni returning. In 2017, 11 students attended the Rushville camp.
The Winnebago camp did not take place in 2018 or 2019 but received the following numbers of students in past years:
- 2015 camp: 9 students
- 2016 camp: 7 students
- 2017 camp: 4 students
Rural Nebraska is a large geographic area, so one challenge early on was reaching students. Simply sending out information to guidance counselors was not as effective as in-person presentations by staff. Word of mouth has been a very effective recruiting tool. Past participants tend to speak highly of the experience to younger students in their communities.
Another barrier is financial. It's important to run the camp at no cost to students, due to the high poverty levels of these rural communities. Costs associated with lodging, meals, college credit, supplies, and activities can be high for a week-long event. This barrier has been addressed through collaborative efforts with BHECN, CSC, and a number of community agencies that provide donations to support the camp.
Demands on staff's time is another challenge, as staff typically work 12 to 14 hours each day of camp.
Run the first camp(s) with a local provider, and then turn it over to local staff. This is a useful strategy, as there is a sharp learning curve the first year. Local leadership is important to keep local investment high.
American Indian or Alaska Native
Behavioral health workforce
Health workforce pipeline
July 19, 2018
Date updated or reviewed
August 25, 2021
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2021. Frontier Area Rural Mental Health Camp and Mentorship Program (FARM CAMP) [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/1024 [Accessed 7 December 2021]
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